*checks clock* Well, it’s after midnight here in Minnesota, but not so in California, so I can still say:
Today (Wednesday, 16 June 2010) saw the closing arguments in the federal court challenge of Prop 8, the California proposition that sought to rewrite the state Constitution to enshrine for good and all that the only people worthy of full rights as citizens of the state are heterosexuals. Sorry, was that my outside voice?
So…I have some thoughts.
A brief history:
- 15 May 2008. The California Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the California Defense of Marriage Act passed in 2000 was unconstitutional, I believe because it denied Equal Protection to all California citizens, which it did. (Prop 22 stated that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”, so I have to believe its authors were being ironic when they termed it a defense of marriage.)
- 16 June 2008 (two years ago today). Much joy as committed same-sex relationships were finally legally legitimized in civil matrimony for the first time. Including such high-profile unions as that of George Takei and his partner Brad Altman, and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. (Of course, on the anti-equality side, there was less joy and more wailing and gnashing of teeth. Funny thing, though: two years later, George and Brad and thousands of other Californian LGBTQ couples are still legally married and the world hasn’t ended.)
- 5 November 2008. As America voted into office her first black President, California was busy sorting her citizens into multiple classes: 1) heterosexuals free to marry whomever they chose, 2) homosexuals who were “allowed” to remain legally married, and 3) homosexuals who were denied the right to marry afforded all other California citizens. Prop 8 had passed. This proposition had the same wording as Prop 22, but there was one crucial difference. Prop 8 was set to amend the state Constitution in order to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.
…and then other stuff happened. We kept fighting. The court challenge was proposed and set into motion. The National Organization for (straight-only) Marriage – otherwise known as (om nom) NOM – made and distributed an ad so hateful and full of lies that I won’t link to it, but here’s a great re-cut version (if you really want to see the original, there’s a link there), and here’s a fantastic parody. Possibly the most confusing thing about NOM’s ad is that they had the gall to use the phrase “rainbow coalition” to describe those gathering to fight marriage equality. I mean, honestly, did they not get the memo?
As you may or may not know, I lived in California from June 1996 to August 2009, and I loved it there. In my mind, the UK is “Home”, California is “home”, and Minnesota is… well… so far not a bad place to live (when it’s not snowing. Or humid.).
I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Prop 22 had passed: driving home, waiting at a stop light to turn left, and listening to the election results on the radio. One moment, I was arms-in-the-air cheering that Prop something-or-other had passed; the next, I was shouting, “NO!” and bashing the steering wheel with my hands.
I remember the excitement in the air when the California Supreme Court ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional. So many people were ecstatic that they were finally going to have their commitments legally recognized. Their children didn’t need to fear a custody battle if one partner died. A man would be able to sit at the hospital bedside of his husband and legally be recognized as the one who could make medical decisions, without having to drag along the power of attorney paperwork. Overall, the basic human decency of recognizing that love is love, commitment is commitment, and family is family was law.
I remember hearing of Prop 8 and thinking, “How mature. The Court tells you your proposition was unconstitutional, so now you want to rewrite the Constitution.” It’s like kicking the soccer/football straight into the arms of the goalie and then rewriting the rules to say the goal was good because it could have smashed him in the face instead. (Wait a minute. Did I just use a sports metaphor?)
I was there in the months leading up to November 2008, arguing the case for equality across the Internet, loudly supporting equality any way I could, trying to spread facts to combat the misinformation spread by the “Prop H8” crowd.
And there I sat, fresh from the jubilation of President Obama’s landslide, refreshing and refreshing and refreshing the California Propositions election results website, hoping that some county in the Inland Valley or in NorCal or maybe even Orange County would surprise me and tip the scale. Because I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that California – the land of fruits and nuts, the bastion of Liberalism – would do it again. The fact that Prop 8 passed only 52.24% to 47.76%, that we had gained almost 10% of the population since 2000, that so many counties had nearly a 50-50 split, was cold comfort.
After the election, I started hearing stories of confusion. Relatives of people I was talking to who had mistakenly voted Yes “for same-sex marriage”, victims of the misleading “protect marriage” campaign run by the anti-equality camp. To this day, I still wonder exactly how many people fell prey to that idea. Could we have won if they’d voted as they’d actually meant to?
A couple of weeks after the election, I was walking down the seafront of Brighton, England, in town for the weekend during a three-week holiday in the UK. And I passed a hotel with a large banner prominently displayed. You know what else was in town that weekend?
Yeah. The smile that lifted my lips could best be described as bittersweet.
I also had a very interesting chat with the German woman who worked at the B&B where I was staying that weekend. Among other things, she said that “we were watching that whole Prop 8 thing, just wondering what the big deal was. Why was it even an issue?” Now, same-sex couples in the UK get “civil unions”, not “marriages” (those are still reserved for heterosexual couples), but still – they’re legally recognized unions, with benefits and immigration rights and all. And I don’t think (legally, anyway) anyone bats an eye when one woman introduces another as her wife. No, the UK isn’t perfect, either, not even in this (BNP, anyone?), but they’re much further along than we are. Equality is taken as such a matter of course in a lot of Europe that they couldn’t understand why California was bickering. Just recently, Iceland passed marriage equality without a whisper of opposition. For those of you who wonder why a Michigan-born, Wisconsin-raised, self-proclaimed Californian living in Minnesota calls the UK “Home” (with a capital H)…this is part of it. Shared values, attitudes.
Because I don’t understand it, either. I never have. From my earliest memories, I couldn’t understand why people cared who anyone else loved. I’ve always thought that if you love someone enough to stand up in front of everyone you know and say, “I want to spend the rest of my life with this person and commit to them and take care of them and cherish them,” then you should – and you should be able to. The biological sexes of those involved? Secondary. What they do in the privacy of their own home? Not even considered. (Assuming, of course, they’re both adults, everything’s consensual, and no one gets hurt.)
Sometime in the last year or so, I started losing track of the fight for equality in California. Part exhaustion. Part distraction as I gained new employment and other parts of my life took precedence. Moving 2000 miles away didn’t help, either, because it’s also part distancing myself from the pain: for the time being, I can no longer vote on these issues in California, and there’s so little else I can do from here. There are certain California-related emails I trash without looking just because it hurts too much to read about it when I’m so far away.
It’s telling that I got an email this morning about today’s closing arguments, noted it, and then promptly forgot until a Californian friend’s Facebook status reminded me. Hence this long and rambling post after midnight, trying to collect my feelings. The Prop H8rs are still at it, by the way – they’re not content with just urging the judge to uphold Prop 8; they want him to annul the thousands of marriages that were performed in that six-month window of legality in 2008.
And even if they succeed, this is not over. The fight will not end. The tides are shifting. The new generation doesn’t care who you love. Hell, even Iowa legalized marriage equality. Eventually, say ten or twenty years, all Americans will be free to marry the person they love. I just don’t want to wait that long to see a permanent win in California. Because in thirty or forty years, we’ll be repeating this same argument over triad unions or some other group. It’d be nice to have a bit of a breather.
So I guess now we wait for the judge’s decision on whether Prop 8 will stand or fall. I don’t know if we’ll hear tomorrow, next week, or next month. I also don’t know if I dare get my hopes up. All I can do is hope that the judge bears in mind that this is a country founded on the belief that “all [people] are created equal.” I know he has to rule on the arguments of the case, which have more to do with the way Prop 8 was executed than with the wording of the Declaration of Independence, because that’s how court cases work…
But all I can do is hope.
Because ALL CITIZENS are equal and therefore should ALL have the same rights, including the right to marry. It’s really not that difficult.
In the midst of the 2008 fight, I wanted to make a video or GIF or something with the message “Gay is the new black.” I never did. I hope I won’t still want to after hearing the ruling.